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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Alec at Abroad with Alec who’s currently working and living in rural Phetchabun, Thailand. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail . com.
When I came to visit Thailand as a tourist I immediately fell in love with the country. The people, the landscape, the food, and plenty more all make Thailand an amazing place to call home. I knew the crazy city life of Bangkok wasn’t for me, and living on an expensive and tourist beach was equally unappealing; so I opted for Muang Phetchabun, a small town in Northern Thailand.
I currently work as an English teacher in a government school; I teach Mathayom 6 (equivalent to high school seniors). Most days I love it, but it does have downsides as well. Things like large classes, crazy heat, general lack of communication and organization, and many other things are all well documented problems that make teaching in Thai public schools a challenge. That said I absolutely love my students and they definitely make the job worthwhile. Also the culture surrounding work here is lax, which helps keep it low-stress.
My daily routine here is fairly similar to my routine back home. On weekdays I’m up by 6:30. I wake up, eat breakfast, and get ready for work. I have to be signed in at my school by 7:30, and then leave around 4:00-4:30. In the evenings I work out, play sports, read, watch TV, hang out with friends. Basically the same stuff as at home! Soon after this I’m in bed in order to do it all again the next day.
On weekends I always try and take a day to get out and explore. Usually this entails driving my motorbike up into the mountains (Phetchabun is surrounded by mountains and national parks) and doing some hiking or something.
There are some differences in life here versus back in America. For instance at home I went to the gym and went running every day, but didn’t really play sports to the extent I do here (at least not since graduating university). This is because Phetchabun has one gym, and it isn’t really kept in the greatest shape. I’ve also been a practicing Buddhist for a while, but in America I never had the chance to go to temple, celebrate the holidays, or give alms. So I’ve been really enjoying having the opportunity to participate in the numerous festivals and holidays, as well as attending temple and giving alms in the morning.
Of course another huge difference is the food. Living in Thailand is a food-lovers paradise. When I first moved here I bought all the necessary stuff to cook for myself, thinking that since my town didn’t have any Western food options I’d want to cook for myself fairly regularly. However the longer I’m here the less and less I use it (nowadays it’s only for bacon and eggs at breakfast time). It’s so easy to go grab some delicious Thai food for less than 40 THB (a little over $1), and instead of getting tired of Thai food I think I enjoy it more every day. That said, I still splurge on Indian, Mexican, and American food whenever I visit a larger city.
Living here comes with plenty of ups and downs. One thing that caught me off guard was just the basic premise of living in a small town. I grew up in a fairly small town in the states, but my last few years prior to moving where spent in Louisville, the 22nd largest city in the US. Going from a city with over a million people and plenty of entertainment options to a town of less than 25,000 with little entertainment to speak of was a shock to the system. You see the same people every where, everyone knows your business (this is compounded by being one of the few Westerners), and being a teacher means I have to really mind my actions because anything I do is sure to make it back to my coworkers.
The first thing that really blew me away was how laid back and friendly everyone is (a stark contrast to what I had experienced in my years in big-city America). I had visited Thailand prior to moving here, so I had some experience with the culture; but in places like Bangkok and Chiang Mai it can feel a bit impersonal due to the size and the fact that they have large tourism industries Living in a smaller town completely amazed me in regards to just how friendly and accommodating Thai people are. Being one of 25 Westerners in town means I get my fair share of attention (i.e. stares) but at the same time I’ve never really felt like an outsider. From day one everyone in town has went out of their way to make sure I’m happy and comfortable here.
I’ve found connecting with the locals to be particularly rewarding. I really lucked out because my town has three universities. This is great considering I only recently graduated myself, so I’m still around the same age as most of the students. I get to really experience life as a local!
With the positives there are negatives though. When I first moved here there was plenty of culture shock-related frustration. Not being able to communicate very well, not being able to find conveniences I had gotten used to back home, etc. I remember the first time I went to the grocery store and couldn’t find peanut butter nearly threw me into an existential crisis. But all of those things you easily adjust to after time.
These days my biggest frustration is not being able to play music. My degree is in music and I have been playing for as long as I can remember; back home I played in numerous bands, DJed at local clubs, and had plenty of opportunities to play both solo and with other musicians. Here, for numerous reasons, I don’t have that opportunity. This (aside from family of course) is probably the one thing I miss most about ‘home’.
Living in a small Thai town has been an experience unlike any other; certainly unlike my visit to Thailand as a backpacker. It isn’t a lifestyle for everyone (I’ve had friends come to visit who went stir crazy within a matter of days) but I personally love the laid back and easy going vibe that is quite unlike anything else I’ve yet to find in the world. Some days it feels like I’m living in a bit of a bubble, but I can’t say I’d change anything about my situation. I enjoy the experience of being so far removed from the culture I’m familiar with. Learning to live here has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.